What a flurry of decisions, painting, problem-solving and little sleep these last several weeks have been. Before I go any further, I feel a need to pause to update all of you so that we can all go along together on this journey. Lately, my daily life has been a constant stream of the same routine: new challenge, pray, research, pray, make a decision, pray, pet Penny, paint. Everyday, all day long: decisions. I feel like I've not made as many decisions in my adult life cumulatively as I have these last couple of months!
You might remember from my last post in January that I had just sent off a file to a fabric printer in the UK to get samples of reproductions of my scarves. I am stunned by the result! Every nuance of my hand was captured on the silk, and the finished hem was meticulously even. I had thought that purchasing reproductions was going to be the answer to helping me build up inventory for the upcoming 9th Annual Indiana Artisan Marketplace, but it turns out that only 10% of the work I sell there can be limited edition reproductions. If I have 60 hand-painted scarves, only another 6 of them could be printed. Seems hardly worth the expense and effort! I completely understand and appreciate their rule, by the way.
I attended an all-day Indiana Artisan best marketplace practices workshop a few weeks ago. It was incredibly helpful and eye-opening for me. One of the most important things I heard came from the retail buyer who spoke during the wholesale break-out session. Her words are still ringing in my ears: "If you feel like you cannot afford to sell your work wholesale, that tells me as a buyer that you are not paying yourself enough for the work you are doing." I took from that, "Carrie, you currently have a hobby, not a business. What do you want?"
I drove the hour home from that meeting praying about what this whole Carrie Wright Silk venture is meant to be. Am I trying to start a full-fledged business or is this just a hobby that ambles along keeping me engaged day to day and that makes a little bit of extra income? Should I get on the craft/art show circuit with my hobby to earn a little more money? When that got a quick "no thank you" from my heart, then I had to ask, "Am I actually trying to create a brand then?!" Am I willing to raise my prices knowing that there is an entire group of people, whom I happen to love, who will be aghast, and is my work worth what I would need to charge in order for wholesaling to be an option? How much money per hour am I worth as a silk painter? Lord, what do You intend on doing with me, with this, with my time?
What do I WANT to do? WHAT AM I DOING?!
I know now that the print sampling process was an important step to take for reasons other than I'd intended at the time. Knowing how to get high quality reproductions of my work, and the price it will take to do so, has allowed me to build a pricing and business strategy for selling wholesale. That corporate past of mine came in handy while building a pretty impressive cost analysis spreadsheet. haha! I now realize that I want to try to make a go of creating a full-fledged brand out of Carrie Wright Silk. I think I am seeing more clearly the Lord's purpose in having me even pursue being a part of Indiana Artisan. I believe I would not have had these types of decisions at my feet this quickly nor the education, knowledge, community of artisans and access to buyers I needed to get me off the ground. The pressure of the fast-approaching Marketplace and all that it entails has forced me to narrow my focus, edit, and consider carefully what I will and won't do as an artist, as a businessperson and as I choose to live my life in general.
I know in my heart that what I most love to do with my painting is to develop beautiful images, patterns and color palettes. This requires time and quiet regardless of the end product being produced. Creative ideas cannot be forced out of me or conjured else they turn clever and boring at best, fit for the circular bin more likely. Decision #1: I do not have the time or desire to be creating hand-painted originals in bulk for wholesalers or for a craft fair circuit. Originals will need to always be sold one at a time either through my own website and/or through a retailer who is willing to sell my work as one of a kinds. Which leads to Decision #2: My original works must be priced to compensate me for my time and materials. If an original scarf takes two full days to make, a $45 price tag makes no sense.
I have a vision now for keeping a rhythm of steadily creating new designs for all types of products you've yet to see from me and using the annual Marketplace event as a stage for introducing those new product lines and designs. Originals can always be purchased from my website and reproductions offered through retail venues. Eventually, it would be wonderful to have a community of clients on a mailing list who have a first-look opportunity with entire collections I've created, a chance to buy before I place it in front of anyone else. This is a dream I want to pursue, along with a growing vision for eventually being able to offer others a fun and fulfilling job.
Second, I know that I have a knack for and enjoy the process of collaborating with clients doing custom design and large installation work. Many artists detest this, but I find the interaction fulfilling and purposeful. Because I have always hoped to spend more time doing this than scarf painting, I began thinking and praying about what I could make for the Marketplace that would not have folks leaving my booth remembering me only as "the scarf painter." The answer quickly came: luxury silk pillows. Maybe I did one too many wedding gowns, I don't know, but I had one hitch in the pillow idea in that they would need to be sewn. It didn't take many hours of noodling for me to consider, "Maybe this is the sewing project my mom keeps saying she'd like to have?" And sure enough, creating pillows together has been a true blessing to us both!
The pillows are a much smaller design space than scarves or installations; and therefore, a different design challenge for me. This has opened me creatively in a wonderful new way wherein colors I would not have considered wearing in a scarf are now fair game, and I am forced by the limited space to edit my design to its most important pieces. While this new idea has meant far fewer hours of sleep and has completely cut off all time for socializing, I can say that the joy it has already created for my mom and I has made it all worth it even if they're not a hit at the Marketplace.
I originally came up with a plan for producing 30 pillows, simply because that was the amount of time and expense on fabric and pillow inserts I felt comfortable investing. When those first 30 went so well, Mom suggested she could handle sewing 100 more and truly believes they're going to sell quickly. In the last six weeks, I have painted 94 11" square toss pillows and am in the process of finishing up 13 16" square exclusive luxury pillows. Mom has obviously developed her own streamlined process for stitching them up, complete with invisible zipper closures, and says she's having a ball doing it. I've pressured her at every turn to give up the job if she's ever not enjoying herself in the work, but so far she's been delighted to have it, and says she's not willing to give it up. She hopes for wholesale orders too, and we've agreed on a per pillow labor cost and production time strategy! Here's a charming photo of her with the first batch of them, wearing the scarf I made for her, along with a darling photo-bomber kitty.
Again, pillows meant more decisions: will I sell them with inserts; if so, where do I buy them; how much am I willing to invest in buying pillows; what size should the pillows be; how do I make best use of the fabric; what type of fabric will I use; where do I buy the zippers; what type of zippers; how much are the pillows costing to make; how much should the pillows cost the buyer; and on and on and on! So many decisions that I sometimes feel like Indiana Jones trying to stay ahead of that giant ball rolling toward him at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark! Oh yeah, and how are the pillows going to be displayed in the Marketplace shop? And what about.....you get the idea.
We are now less than three weeks away from the Marketplace, and all things considered, I'm feeling like I have a much better grasp on things. I have a clearer vision for what my little 10' square shop will look like, and many decisions and purchases are now behind me for that rather than ahead of me. I am more confident today that I can competently answer questions from retail buyers and be open to those opportunities if they present themselves. I have a very long list of things yet to accomplish that I now see as achievable rather than totally overwhelming. And most important, I think, is that I have had constant encouragement from friends that you do indeed understand this is a short season, and that I will say "yes" again soon! All the more reason why it seemed important to spend the last four hours trying to write to you again rather than paint. As ever, thank you for following along on this wild ride with me! We'll just keep stepping carefully and see where it takes us!
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